What United Imaging says being built for the modern world means -- and why it matters

July 14, 2022 -- The medical imaging industry has come a long way since 1895 when the first x-rays were discovered. The 1920s saw new innovation in the form of fluoroscopy, the 1950s with the advent of ultrasound, and the 1970s and 1980s with the first-ever CT and MRI scans.

But according to global medical imaging equipment manufacturer United Imaging, achieving quantum leaps -- and delighting medical imaging providers -- in 2022 and beyond requires a different approach: a bolder, more transformative combination of organizational structure, leadership, and culture United calls being "built for the modern world."

To understand what that means and why it is important, it helps to take a step back and look at the overall landscape. Innovation in imaging technology has historically focused on the equipment itself and improving image quality.

While clearly critical, it does leave out a broader set of pain points for healthcare providers -- for example, how lengthy and complicated it is to purchase new medical imaging equipment, and even more importantly, how challenging it can be to ensure that equipment stays at its peak over time and enables the kind of clinical flexibility needed to serve ever-changing patient populations.

Additionally, radiology departments and imaging centers must also consider the importance of standardization when they make capital equipment purchases, especially to aid in training and machine maintenance. Even the best medical imaging equipment in the world, no matter how advanced, is subject to all of these considerations and challenges. Innovation has to be defined broadly enough to solve for them.

In order to achieve this, United Imaging doesn't rely on hard work and good marketing messages alone. United Imaging connects the industry's best people with their personal passion for improving healthcare in the U.S., centered on a strong and clearly articulated mission. In United Imaging's case, it is spoken of continuously at all levels of the organization and is fundamental to all of their business decisions: Equal Healthcare for All.

This means that all of the company's medical imaging equipment is designed to make the most advanced exams possible for (and available to) as many different kinds of patients as possible, in as many different kinds of settings as possible. United Imaging believes that the best healthcare should not be reserved for people who live in the right zip code. United Imaging believes that a strong mission serves as an anchor -- a prerequisite to anything else.

Built for the modern world

The culmination of more than 125 years of medical imaging innovation by equipment manufacturers, physicians, and scientists has made a significant and lasting contribution to disease diagnosis and treatment. United Imaging argues that being built for the modern world (organizationally as well as in leadership and culture) is critical to the industry being able to make huge leaps in disease diagnosis and treatment. A broad definition of innovation that goes beyond the technology, and the anchor of having a strong mission, are prerequisites.

So what does being built for the modern world actually mean, and why does it matter to patient outcomes? Using United Imaging's U.S.-led business based in Houston as a case study begins to make the answer clearer.

First, consider organizational structure. In the case of 11-year-old United Imaging, what the company decided was important was to be highly vertically integrated. As a result, United Imaging structured itself in such a way from the beginning, with more parts conceived, tested, and created in-house than is the norm, and tighter-than-traditional controls over its supply chain. The company modeled itself more like Tesla than like a legacy medical imaging provider.

Why does that matter? It matters because it translates into downstream benefits for healthcare providers. A higher degree of vertical integration and supply chain control means United Imaging can often act more nimbly and guard itself against excessive supply chain delays that could delay equipment getting into their customers' hands for exams. This bore fruit in 2022, when the rest of the industry struggled to deliver products to the U.S. market. It also gives the company maximum control over quality that instills confidence and pride in the machines that come off its highly automated manufacturing lines.

It also helps United Imaging control manufacturing costs, so the company can convert savings into return on investment for customers. For example, as a result of its modern vertically integrated structure, the company is able to offer All-in Configurations, which means that its systems are sold with all existing configurations bundled in so that imaging providers can use them later as they expand clinical capabilities.

United Imaging also offers Software Upgrades for Life so that all customers with a service agreement benefit from receiving the latest software upgrades at no additional expense for the entire life of their medical imaging machine. The simplified configurations have eliminated unnecessary internal processes, and in turn enabled United Imaging to turn internal cost savings into "future-proofed" investments for healthcare organizations. That translates to scanners that have a better chance of performing at peak and expanding to perform more exams -- all of which impacts a healthcare provider's ability to do what is fundamentally important: serve more patients.

The second way in which United Imaging is built for the modern world is in its leadership. Looking at the U.S. as an example, the company's hiring has been very deliberate. When the company entered the market in 2018 with a four-modality portfolio of 14 products cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the first person the U.S. commercial CEO hired was a head of service who knew the market, and who was charged to build a faster, friendlier service organization than customers usually experience, while also exceeding expectations on technical expertise and timely turnaround. Every hire since then has been a mixture of employees coming from outside the industry, or a long tenure inside the industry, but all with a passion for something that needed to be approached differently to delight customers.

United Imaging has also begun investing in future leaders, leading the thinking about what kind of mindset the industry needs. Its most recent class of newly hired engineers were trained on 14 things United Imaging offers that are different from competitors and solve pain points in purchasing, alongside their product training. That reinforces the mindset that medical imaging manufacturers have to do more than offer amazing technology -- they have to make it easier for imaging providers to buy it and use it.

Another example of United Imaging's emphasis on modern leadership is its sponsorship of AHRA's Leaders of Choice program, an educational program that teaches radiology administrators how to become drivers of the industry. United Imaging firmly believes that today's leaders have to ensure the industry is built for the future and anticipate what needs must be solved next.

The third aspect of being built for the modern world in the company's view, alongside organizational structure and leadership, of the importance of culture. The term "culture" can mean a lot of different things. Part of what United Imaging decided in the U.S was to hire the best people, regardless of location (unless a specific location was required to serve a customer).

That meant that well before the COVID-19 pandemic, United Imaging had people across the country working through virtual technology, from their homes or customer sites or meeting locations, but always engaged and interconnected. Employees were accustomed to this long before the rest of the country was learning how to adopt remote working, and that dramatically reduced the adjustment they needed to make to deal with COVID-19.

United Imaging believes this experience is an example of how it has created a culture that withstands many unforeseeable challenges over time and anticipates what employees will need in order to do their best work. And the company also believes that this purposefully remote setup is one of the reasons that it gained so much ground on the competition during the pandemic.

United Imaging's culture is also something leveraged in the hiring process, formalized and documented and repeatedly compared with strong cultures in other industries like Zappos or Apple. Like those companies, United Imaging believes that to be built for the modern world, it must institutionalize and protect culture and use it as a basis for strategic decision-making.

Of course, being built for the modern world is a useless concept if it doesn't serve a purpose. In the landscape of medical imaging manufacturers, it is disruptive, but so what?

It matters because it positions United Imaging to do more for patients -- i.e., to pursue its mission of Equal Healthcare for All. With that mission as an anchor, and with a broader definition of where innovation was truly needed in its industry, United Imaging has been able to make being built for the modern world mean something.

Through a more modern approach to vertical integration, leadership, and culture, United Imaging has not only delivered leading technology but has also made this equipment easier to purchase and own. In the end, that kind of positive disruption benefits patients and positions the industry for more quantum leaps.

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